In the days coming up to compiling this list, I was thinking 2011 had been a pretty weak year for horror. If you took away the stuff I saw at film festivals, it would appear downright dismal. However, when I started going through the archives, I did happen to find a large handful of good titles from this calendar year. Here below, in no particular order, is my top five.
USA, Dir: Adam Wingard
If you saw my Halloween costume this year, it should not surprise you that this movie was one of my faves. Wingard finally won me over this year with his wildly fresh slasher flick. It is funny, smart, gory and features one of the most feisty final girl’s in a very long time. This movie blew the roof off the Ryerson at Midnight Madness, so if Lionsgate has any sense they will get this out into the world as soon as possible.
UK, Dir: Joe Cornish
The movie that Super 8 wishes it could have been, Attack the Block absolutely wowed me this summer. Attack did everything right. It had well conceived action sequences punctuated by a fantastic score, as well as great performances by a genuine ensemble cast. And again, unlike Super 8, when the effects became prominent, there was an actual payoff and not a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. This was a home-run for Cornish and company in my opinion.
USA, Dir: Ti West
West followed up his solid 2009 flick House of the Devil with another genre doozy this year. It has atmosphere in spades and a spirited and adorable performance from Sara Paxton. As we saw in House of the Devil, West’s sensibilities lean more toward an older style of filmmaking, but he also skilled enough to keep The Innkeepers from feeling outwardly retro, and thus being just a redo of his previous work. This was a fun ride, and the type of movie more genre directors should be making.
Canada, Dir: Jason Eisener
Though not technically a horror film, it has pretty much everything I love in a genre film. Plus, I gotta represent my peeps, don’t I? As I said in my review, this love letter to 42nd Street goes way further than Machete and is pound-for-pound more authentic than Grindhouse. It pulled no punches and just kept getting more and more bloody as it progressed. Rutger Hauer lived & breathed this role, and I was in it from start to finish.
France/Belgium, Dir: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani
Even though Amer didn’t turn out to be the mind blowing experience I was hoping for, it was still pretty great. Soaked in atmosphere and paying homage to so many films I hold dear, it was impossible not to enjoy it, frankly. I still wish there was more of a structured narrative throughout, but I can fully appreciate it as a piece of art rather than a traditional film. It is a must-see for any fan of the gialli.
There were a lot of films that bubbled under this year. Insidious could’ve made my Top 5, but it was on last year's list, as it played Midnight Madness 2010.
Red State was perhaps my biggest surprise this year. Kevin Smith really spread his wings here as a director. A lot of people complained about the movie's lack of direction, but I chose to embrace the unpredictability of the whole affair. Anchored by some great performances – most paramount among them being Michael Parks as the fanatical preacher – I never felt it got away from itself.
Troll Hunter was just a hugely enjoyable movie. Combining the age old lore of Norway with present day science really lent itself well to its faux documentary conceit. Even though it got increasingly effects heavy, the CGI was just good enough to not take me out of the experience.
There were several films from last year that I caught in 2011, that would’ve surely been in last year’s post. These include the excellent German zombie flick Rammbock and the criminally underseen The Shrine. I also loved Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions, as well as Dream Home out of Hong Kong. However, the one film from 2010 that is still rattling around in my brain is the Spanish home invasion flick Secoustrados AKA Kidnapped. Oh, and by the way, most of these are now on Netflix, so go watch them!
Also, 2011 was a huge year for low-budget indies. I can name five that made an impression just off the top of my head. Absentia, Midnight Son & Some Guy Who Kills People, Lovely Molly and The Reef are all worth your time. Write them down for future reference.
Though David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Contagion are not technically horror, they were up there with some of the best films I saw this year.
The negative column is mercifully short this year. Scream 4, Fright Night and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark were glaring disappointments and I was unimpressed with Paranormal Activity 3 for messing with the wonderful lore it had set up in the previous two installments. And the more I think about The Thing prequel, the more I realize just how much the botched effects ruined the entire experience.
However, if I was to pick the movie that I disliked the most this year, it would be Lucky McKee’s The Woman. I am well aware that this movie is on several 'best of' lists, and they can have it. I want no part of what this movie is selling, and it's the final nail in the coffin when it comes to Jack Ketchum. I am still of the opinion that a large ingredient of satire is comedy, and there was absolutely none to be had here.
So, that's another year wrapped up. Check back next year for my 2012 preview. Until then, have a fun and safe NYE!